People Who Make NY Special

Beijing Street Food, the Mr Bing Way

Native New Yorker Brian Goldberg has eaten way more Chinese food than you ever could.

Brian Goldberg has lived many lives in the span of one. We best know him as the founder of Chinese-style crepes vendor Mr Bing, but he has dipped his toe in several other professional pools, as a former 30 Rock page, sports reporter, and investment trader. Like most of us, he wanted to change the world in some capacity. So he brought his love for Beijing street food back to the States and opened three locations of Mr Bing in Manhattan (and a fourth on the way in Chelsea).

In celebration of the new breakfast menu launching on January 11, we talked to Goldberg about his years living and eating overseas, Mr Bing’s newest location on St. Mark’s Place, and his brief stint as an Olympiad.

Brian Goldberg at Mr Bing.

What Should We Do?!: What area of New York did you grow up in?
Brian Goldberg: I was born in the Bronx and grew up in Rockland County. I went to college in Boston, grad school back in New York, and then lived in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, China, and a bit in Japan.

WSWD: You were living overseas for how long?
Goldberg: I lived overseas a total of 14 years. I first studied abroad in Beijing for six months in 1998. I did a total language-immersion program, and every day before school I’d wake up and eat jianbing for breakfast, since [the vendor] was outside my dorm room.

I had a small career in professional sports for three years [as a luge racer]. After the Olympics, I eventually got hired by NBC—first as a page at 30 Rock and then as a reporter and a producer with CNBC. The network moved me to Singapore for a couple of years, and then I became a sports reporter for Channel NewsAsia for a few years.

I got into the stock market when I was 27, 28 years old and became a trader for an investment bank for 10 years. It moved me to Taiwan for a couple of years and then Hong Kong for eight and a half years, trading stocks and helping American investors buy and sell stocks in Asia. About five years ago, I started getting a little bored of finance and was hoping to create my own company. I said to myself, One day, when I die, I want to leave something behind: physical, tangible, a brand, so I can change the world a little bit. And my way of doing that was to start this company called Mr Bing and bring this food from China back to America. And that is what I’ve done. I started it in Hong Kong and then brought it back to New York about two years ago.

WSWD: How did you get into the Olympics?
Goldberg: I grew up skiing in Lake Placid, New York. I always wanted to go to the Olympics, but I wasn’t going to be good enough to ski. But when I was watching the 1994 Summer Olympics, there was an advertisement for the United States luge team that said if you wanted to try out for the team, call this number; of course, I called the number. I went to a tryout and did pretty well, but I was 17 at the time and they were looking for, like, 10-year-olds.

After college, I called them back. I said, “I want to try again.” They said, “Well, you know, maybe you can do it for Israel and we will train you.” The United States will help you train, but you have to do it for another country. I have a Jewish background, so I was able to get citizenship and sponsorship, and they sent me to Japan to train for the Nagano Olympics in 1998. I got into the World Cup circuit race for Israel and qualified for the Olympics in Salt Lake City.

WSWD: After living overseas for so long, did you experience any kind of culture shock when you moved back here?
Goldberg: Yes. I definitely had reverse culture shock. I was living in Asia for a long time, so it took a while to adjust to the States, and I found that things were a little different. I’m pretty much over that now, but it took me a good six months to a year to get acclimated to the U.S. and New York City.

WSWD: Was there any specific moment when you decided, hey, this is what I want to focus on as a career?
Goldberg: Well, I first started percolating the idea when I was in China as a student, and then when I came back as a grad student. I knew I’d do it one day in the future, but I didn’t know when. About five, six years ago, I took a trip to Beijing [from Hong Kong] for a weekend, and I ate the street food. All the memories came rushing back from when I was a student there, and that’s when I was like: You know what? I think now is the time to do it.

WSWD: For those who don’t know, what is a bing?
Goldberg: Jianbing means crepe in Chinese, but we call it bing for short. The bing has mung bean, rice flour, wheat flour, scrambled egg on top, black and white sesame seeds, and scallions on the outside. Flip it over, and you’ve got a sweet hoisin sauce, crispy chili paste, cilantro, crunchy wontons, and they get folded up into a pocket. You could also put Peking duck inside, chicken, barbecued pork, kimchi—or you could just leave it basic and vegetarian. The traditional way they do it in China is vegetarian. We’ve sort of souped it up for the American market a bit by adding those proteins inside so it becomes more of a full meal for lunch or dinner, because guess what? In China, jianbing is traditionally a breakfast food.

Mr Bing’s Peking duck bing. Photograph by Paul Wagtouicz

WSWD: Are you thinking about bringing any other street foods to Mr Bing?
Goldberg: Yes, we are going to expand the menu a bit with other Beijing and northern Chinese–style street foods. We have this dessert thing coming called bingtanghulu that’s kind of like a candy-covered fruit on a stick. They’re very common in China; kids see them and want to eat them right away. We also, probably, have a drinking yogurt coming. A high-protein, probiotic drinking yogurt that’s very common in northern China.

WSWD: If we were to plan a perfect NYC day for you, what would it be?
Goldberg: I’d wake up early and go for a swim in a pool. I love exercise. I like starting my day with a good swim. Afterward, I’d have a nice breakfast and sit in a café, read on my computer, or catch up on news and do some thinking. Your endorphins are keeping your body calm and your brain is more focused after a workout—that’s my most productive time, in the early morning after a workout.

I’d have a different kind of lunch, maybe at Roberta’s. Its Bee Sting pizza is my favorite pizza in New York. I’d walk off the carbs from the pizza. Central Park is nice. Madison Square Park is nice.

I’d end up with a friend or a loved one and go have dinner. Dinner could be anywhere. It could be Tony’s Di Napoli with some chicken piccata, or it could be Café Evergreen for some soup dumplings, or it could be a burger at J.G. Melon with a beer at the bar and watching some sports on TV. I’d get a foot massage and then I’d go to bed.

RAPID ROUND!
Brian Goldberg’s Faves…in a NY Minute

Burger?
At the bar at J.G. Melon.

Chinese food other than yours?
Café Evergreen on the Upper East Side.

Place to relax?
Home is relaxing, so on the couch with a nice cold beer or glass of wine. Or Central Park.

Beer?
I’m on a kick of Golden Monkey right now.

Concert venue?
Forest Hills Stadium. I went to one of Tom Petty’s last concerts there. It was incredible.